Love, heartbreak, sex, infidelity, pornography, friends, relationships, sisters, fathers, women in the workplace, body hang-ups, body big-ups: all the usual suspects when it comes to comical one-woman shows fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe. But Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, running until 22nd September at the Soho Theatre’s Upstairs studio space, is anything but a predictable elegy to a certain strain of feminism.
Written and performed by 28-year-old Waller-Bridge, Fleabag is a hilarious and brittly honest insight into what it is to be a young woman today – or moreover, what it is to be an attractive white, middle-class twenty-something female today. That in itself has a recumbent controversy to it; relative first world privilege never really made for knock-your-socks off comedy. Yet Waller-Bridge’s outstanding hour-long play and portrayal of her sole character, Fleabag (a self-flagellating nickname that’s never directly mentioned in the performance) conveys anything but the ‘poor little white girl’: just “some sort of a female living her sort of life”. In fact, it’s a stark confessional in how the trials of life, the frustrations and regular reasons to whinge are down to nothing but personal responsibility – or lack of therein.
Fleabag seems to represent the feminism she never quite committed to, or perhaps, never felt spirited enough to grasp in the first place. And that’s no criticism; it’s with bristling embarrassment, maybe even relief, that everyone in her audience can heartily relate to her unmentionable habits (masturbation, internet porn, desperate sexual encounters, casual inebriation, harshly judging strangers, to name a cleaner few) and thoroughly relate to her shortcomings (insecurity, indecision, questionable reliability, social awkwardness). With no bars held on life topics that the majority of us would rather not admit to knowing much about, ‘Fleabag is a seriously rude production – yes, expect to be shocked, as the reviews will all say.
The play’s first outing at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer won Waller-Bridge the Fringe First Award 2013 and The Stage Best Solo Performer 2013, and not without deserve. Waller-Bridge’s impeccable comic timing makes for an absorbing and cathartic experience, and her intimate portrayal of her character a brutally close and convincing performance. While relatively short in length, the play’s voraciously human theme and exploration into otherwise uncomfortable subject matter, coupled with the intimate nature of Soho Upstairs’s studio space, deigns its one hour length actually quite un-gratuitous; a careful detail that often eludes explicit performance. Plus, with the play’s 7pm start, you’re out just in time for dinner. Or a stiff drink, which might be more apposite in this instance. Five stars out of five.
Fleabag is showing until September 22nd. For more information and to book tickets, see the Soho Theatre’s website.